The two warring factions in the Yemeni Civil War have reportedly agreed to exchange hundreds of prisoners of the conflict in an effort to restart peace talks and bring about an end to the long-running conflict.
Reuters reported Yemen’s Iran-aligned Shia Houthi faction agreed to release 181 detainees in exchange for the release of 706 detainees from the Saudi Arabian-backed Yemeni government. Among the 181 captives of the Houthi faction are 15 Saudi and three Sudanese nationals.
The prisoner exchange was negotiated with the assistance of the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg and the International Committee of the Red Cross through talks in Switzerland.
The prisoner exchange comes as the Yemeni Civil War is approaching the eight-year mark.
The civil war began in September of 2014 but the roots of the conflict reach further back. The Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, had been fighting a low-level insurgency for years prior to the civil war.
During the Arab Spring in 2011, various Yemeni groups began to protest then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who among other things was accused of supporting to Sunni extremist group Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP). Saleh was eventually replaced by Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.
In mid-September 2014, the Houthis seized control of the Yemeni capital city of Sana’a. The Hadi government and a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia have fought with the Houthi’s in the years since the fall of Sana’a.
The Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the Houthis are the main factions in the ongoing conflict. A third faction, known as the Southern Movement, has also entered the conflict, seeking to separate southern Yemen from the rest of the country. AQAP and Islamic State affiliates have also taken part in the fighting throughout the country.
The Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the Iran-linked Houthis entered into peace talks in 2018, though the fighting has continued and progress has been slow. There have been some previous prisoner exchanges as well as a few ceasefire agreements throughout the war, including one that has held relatively firmly since April of 2022.
Peace negotiations in Yemen could be bolstered by recent diplomacy between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Earlier this month, the rival Middle Eastern regional powers agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations. It remains to be seen if renewed diplomacy between Saudi Arabia and Iran could have downstream effects on the Yemeni Civil War or other factional conflicts throughout the Middle East.